Published: March 9th 2010April 23rd 2009
It is kind of strange meeting a group of virtual strangers at the airport knowing you will be spending the next two weeks together. I am participating in a social justice focused experiential learning volunteer trip organized through my university. We are going with Solidarity in Action (recently renamed Solidarity Experiences Abroad), an NGO originally developed by Brock University students (and Raul) that acts in partnership with Solidaridad En Marcha in Lima. Our main trip leaders are Greg Robertson, and Raul Masseur. Greg and Raul put together volunteer trips for different types of groups with different focus. For universities they try to get several different types of volunteer placements so that students can have a variety of options to choose from. On this trip we will be focusing mainly on building a brick wall around a school (C.E.I. Creciendo con Jesus) in San Juan de Miraflores, a mountainous-desert shanty town outside of Lima. Another placement is at Alegria en el Senor, a school for disabled children where experienced volunteers work with the physiotherapists. Two other placements are: in an elementary school in one of the more developed shanty towns, and at a maternity ward.
The flight was peaceful. I slept most of the way from Pearson Airport, Toronto to San Salvador. Since most of us dont know each other, the trip was fairly quiet, even though we were all sitting together. The weather was perfectly clear, so the flight over the states had a neat view of the network of rivers, forests and farmland. Arriving at San Salvador was beautiful. The plane circled the airport so that the arriving passengers all had a view of the vast beaches next to the large aqua expanse with white-capped waves breaking in the shallow water, and rich villas with in ground pools lining the coast. Looking down on the landscape there were flat square patches of land with evenly spaced polka dots which, as the plane descended towards the airport, turned out to be planted palm trees. San Salvador airport was comfortably (if not too cold) air conditioned and had a long shop-lined hallway to exercise fidgety legs between flights. It took 30 minutes for me to wander from end to end of the airport. The stop over was only about 3 hours before we were on out re-fueled TACA airlines 100-ish seater plane. The sun was setting as we entered northern Peru. Flying over a mountain range, we could see snowy peaks poking out from the clouds below.
We arrived at Jorge Chavez International Airport about one hour after sunset. After grabbing out luggage and going through customs, we popped by the internet cafe on the upper floor to send a quick email home, and then loaded on our awaiting charter bus. Our first stop was to sight see at Parque del Amour, a cliff top-ocean side park with beautiful tiled walls, well kept grass and a sculpture of a couple making out. From below came the roar of the surf breaking against the shore, and across the empty darkness of the water on top of a distant mountain-eque hill was a well-lit gargantuan-sized statue of Jesus. In Peru, it is perfectly acceptable (and very common) to put icons of religion on top of the highest points with a view over cities. According to Raul, there would be no problem putting up a statue of Budha or some other religious icon as Peruvians are very accepting of different religions. The only reason that Jesus appears on top of nearly every significant land feature is because Roman Catholicism is predominantly the practiced religion.
The roads to the retreat house in Surco were packed with crazy drivers and people-packed vans with doors barely hanging off of them which served as buses. In less densely urban areas there were mini taxis that looked like a motorized bicycle with a tent covered chair trailer. The use of the horn in Peru (and potentially south America in general) is intended more for a "hey, I'm over here" or "I'm behind you, just to let you know", rather then the North American "Hey, a$$hole, dont hit me!". Therefore the use of the horn is super common, and you cant go 10 feet on any main road without hearing at least a hundred horns going off.
The retreat house is located in one of the upper class districts of Lima, Surco. The houses in this area are somewhat similar to middle-class Canadian homes in more densely urban areas. Small lawns, boxy buildings, roadside parking. The more upper class homes have containment walls around their small front yard with spikes and barbed wire to prevent people from breaking in. The retreat house itself is within a walled community of a church and elementary school. Within the compound there is the catholic retreat house where we are staying, a security house by the shipping entry, a track with a field in the middle, fenced concrete soccer courts with walls volleyball courts and basketball courts (with that awesome rubber mat turf stuff). And this is all that's within view in my half of the compound. everything was fenced off, and we only have access to the sports fields and the retreat house. The entire compound is full of grassy lawns and trees. It is peaceful away from the bustling streets and a safe place to wander around and explore. There is the kitchen and dining area on one side of the entrance way (as well as a few rooms, a chapel, and meeting rooms), and two floors of bedrooms on the other side. Each bedroom had 2 beds, a desk, a closet and sink. There is a communal bathroom with 6 stalls halfway down the hall across from the shower room. I picked a room near the staircase downstairs and Sarah, a girl from Toronto, and I settled in for the next two weeks.